Lance and I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's studio, Taliesin West, in north Scottsdale yesterday. We took the one-and-a-half hour tour, which was led by the woman pictured above.
The tour was very interesting and worthwhile. Frank Lloyd Wright was a character, and the tour guide was as well.
The studio is still active, used by students who pay $30,000 per year to live on the premises and study architecture.
In addition, about 10 of Wright's former assistants still live on the 500-acre property which once was in the middle of the desert, but which now is surrounded by development. Most of those assistants are now in their 90s. One is still making sculpture. They eat communally each day.
Wright was in perpetual debt. He went through 90 red vehicles in his life, and over 20 Steinway pianos. He fathered six children by his first wife and then ditched the family for a mistress. After she bore two of their children, all three were killed when a servant burned the house down and killed seven occupants with an axe as they escaped. Wright was away at the time.
When Wright sought a divorce from a subsequent wife, she went nuts and had him thrown in jail twice, experiences he claimed to enjoy.
Wright charged his student assistants to work for him for the privilege of working with the master, and they did back-breaking labor. They hauled the rocks by hand which formed the building above.
Quirks aside, the buildings are an experience. Wright loved the light that comes through canvas, so he had canvas panels installed rather than glass. Although he eventually installed glass, the canvas remains and the light is magical. He created a dinner theater in a carved-out cave with wonderful acoustics.
Wright's philosophy of "compress and release" was everywhere on display: He liked to make entrances small and cramped so they propelled people into the main space, which would be wide open. Most of the entrances felt like you were crawling into something. He'd compress you, then release you.
Wright was one of those fascinating geniuses who was full of charm to the outside world, but a pain to those under him or those related to him.
When he was called into court once, he was asked on the stand to give his name and occupation.
"I am Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest architect in the world," he responded.
When his wife later said he needed to stop referring to himself that way, he responded, "But dear, I was under oath!"